CyberFirst. Everything else last.

In a time when thousands of jobs are being lost in the culture sector, with more than 350,000 people in the recreation and leisure sector being furloughed since the pandemic began, we have this. An advert, which has since been taken down, posted on tech-skills training website QA for the “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot” campaign showing a dancer alongside the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. She just doesn’t know it yet.”

Expecting adults who have invested hours and hours of hard, focused labour every day, not to mention enormous amounts of money for expensive ballet lessons to wake up one morning, stick their pointe shoes on eBay, discard their former careers and dreams to work in a job they’ve never had the desire to do before, is more than unreasonable – it’s disgusting.

But this is not what the CyberFirst scheme is asking anyone to do.

While the advert itself is, as Cultural Secretary Oliver Dowden put it, “crass”, it’s also worth mentioning it’s one of many similar adverts which target jobs in other sectors, such as bakers, pilots, factory workers, and other non-tech jobs. The series of CyberFirst adverts were not directed specifically at the arts, despite the viral outrage focusing solely on the one which targeted the arts.

My issue, then, is not with the “Fatima” advert. It’s not with the scheme either – in fact, I think it’s a breath of fresh air to see the government finally funding schemes which supplement public education. My issue is with how the adverts miscommunicate what the scheme is.

Directed towards younger people aged 12-19 who often have not yet decided what they plan to spend the rest of their lives doing, it gives them the opportunity to gain skills in tech for free, with bursaries which help particularly disadvantaged students get a degree. What the advert doesn’t mention is CyberFirst also hosts female-only competitions designed to encourage more girls to start careers in tech and close the massive gender gap in tech industries.

Even for children who don’t want to go into tech industries, the CyberFirst scheme is still useful. Technology is an integral part of all industries – arts included. Wah-wah pedals and amp distortions have revolutionised  electric string instruments, music production software has explored avenues into new genres, animations have given stage designers more tools with which to be creative, and helped fashion brands reduce waste and be more sustainable by handling data in more efficient ways. The list of benefits technology has had and will have on the arts is inexhaustible, and budding artists learning the basics of I.T. will only enhance their talents.

I don’t know many people who would argue the government shouldn’t fund educational initiatives. So, if the scheme itself is a leap in the right direction, how did QA’s marketing team get it so wrong?

Somehow, the marketing team translated the simple message of “Cyber First” into “Everything Else Last”. They could have appealed to getting more female representation into the tech industry, or more children from disadvantaged backgrounds, or children who want to try a tech course to test if they have a passion for it. But no, they chose to use the advert to deter young people from going into other industries instead. Even the words themselves make no sense: why would they say “next” job, when CyberFirst is aimed at schoolchildren? Why would it ask them to “retrain”, as if they already have careers? 

Needless to say, QA’s marketing team could use some retraining and reskilling before they get the boot.


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Jim Gell